The holiday season brings so many great things — time with family and friends, delicious food and the opportunity to embrace traditions both old and new. However, most of us also experience the flipside of the holidays — the frantic pace, financial stress and not having enough time in the day to accomplish everything we want to do. Taking steps to save money and time are beneficial throughout the year, but this becomes essential during the holidays when both resources are at a minimum. The good news is that there are easy ways to reduce your stress this season and really focus on what the holidays are all about. Tip #1: Technology Is Your Friend. One easy way to save time and money this holiday is to let your computer and smartphone do the work for you. Price track electronically. Be sure you’re getting the best deal on your purchases this season without wasting time visiting multiple stores and websites. Sites like camelcamelcamel.com and apps like RedLaser and PriceGrabber compare pricing on the items you’re considering and help take the guesswork and hassle out of holiday shopping. If you’re traveling for the holidays, services like Kayak give you the option to set up price tracking for flights, so you don’t have to keep checking on ticket prices to find the best deals. Take advantage of online services. I know I don’t have to tell you that online shopping is an easy way to take care of some (or all) of your holiday purchases, but have you considered going electronic to take care of your other holiday to-dos? For example, if you’re one of those people who always intends to send out holiday cards but never gets around to it, try creating your cards this year using a website like cardstore.com or shutterfly.com. You just upload a photo, write a personal greeting and submit a file of the recipients’ names and addresses. Your cards will be printed and mailed out to your family and friends, and you won’t even have to set foot in a store or post office to do so! Tip #2: Shop Smart. With a little planning, you can shop savvy and stay stress-free even amongst all the holiday shopping craziness. Set your budget first, then make your gift list. This applies to not just gifts but anything you’ll need for the holidays: food for holiday meals, cards and postage, travel expenses and so on. Decide how much you can afford to spend on everything this season, and then list out exactly how that money will be allocated. Although it’s a little more work up front, figuring out what you’re going to buy in advance with a pre-budgeted list will save you considerable time and money when you shop! Protect yourself. When paying for gifts and travel expenses, one easy way to protect yourself and your money is to use a credit card. Although it’s very important to keep your spending under control — that’s where the budgeted gift list you already created will come in handy — a credit card from a major issuer, such as Visa or MasterCard, can provide you benefits that cash and debit cards may not. Many credit cards offer features like built-in travel insurance, auto-rental insurance, fraud protection and assistance with disputing purchases if need be. If your credit card also offers rewards, then you can take advantage of those with your holiday shopping as well! To help keep your holiday financial stress at a minimum, it’s usually easiest to limit your shopping to one or two credit cards so you won’t have to manage so many bills and due dates after the holidays. Tip #3: Know When to Cut Corners. A lot of our holiday stress comes from trying to do it all. This year, try cutting back a bit and share your holiday duties with others. Determine what’s most significant to you and manage your time and spending accordingly. Are beautifully wrapped gifts your thing? Then be sure to account for the money and time necessary for that and find an area you can cut back. Don’t care much about the wrapping paper but absolutely must have a huge holiday meal? Hit up the dollar store for wrapping paper, bows and cards, and you’ll have more in your budget for food. Focus on what’s most important to you, and let yourself relax on everything else. Trade your talents. An easy way to save time (and your sanity) during the holidays is to ask for help. If you love baking but hate wrapping presents, team up with your friend who’s a fabulous gift wrapper but awful cook and exchange talents. If you hate shopping, consider going in on a bigger gift with your family members and offer to watch their kids while they shop for the present. Play to your strengths, whatever they may be. This holiday, take steps to stay focused on what’s most important to you and recognize the true value of not only your money, but also your time. Find areas where you can simplify and reduce your stress, and enjoy all the good things this time of year has to offer. Happy Holidays!
Christina Minnis is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU), the world's largest university-based credit union, where she loves finding innovative ways to help members achieve their financial goals and dreams.